Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1 : 1 Afganistan
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Saidawi; Abu Saleh, Bahdari, Jarun, Bishara; Wadi, Khader Youssef (Murad Ismail 77'); Amour (Abugharqud 85'), Obeid, Abu Bilal (Ashraf Nu'man 60')
Goals: Houssam Wadi 11'
Recap: Palestine started brightly and seemed to have Afghanistan on the back foot. When Wadi scored 11 minutes into the game it really looked like this could have been a 3-0 or 4-0 rout as predicted. Credit to the Afghans though they toughed out the first half and Palestine who were pressing all over the place began to tire.
Certain cracks have been exposed in this group of players. Husam Abu Saleh at right back is the most glaring problem and the Afghans exploited him repeatedly in this game. Harbi's inability to travel for the away leg and his lack of match fitness saw Abu Saleh start again. If this performance doesn't earn Shareef Adnan (Al-Faisaly/JOR) or Majed Abusidu (Tadamon/KUW) a reprieve I don't know what will.
There were other chances in this game, Alyan was called back when he should have been given an advantage to score a go ahead goal in the first half. Amour grazed his shot off the post in the closing moments as well.
In the second half, the disjointed performance was broken up by moments that evidenced Palestine's quality. Alyan put a shot off the post, Jarun was almost doubled the lead with a header, Ashraf Nu'man was close to pulling one back after the Afghan equalizer, and Alyan forced Yousufzai into a super mano-a-mano save.
It has to be said that the Afghans were calmer on the ball in the second half, they worked past the Palestinian midfield with relative ease. Three out of the four in the backline were ready to snuff out anything that was thrown at them, one was not and that is exactly how Bilal Arezou grabbed the equalizer.
In the end, it was mission accomplished for Palestine. They are through but will need to answer a lot of questions if they're to advance past Thailand.
What I liked: Wadi's goal was phenomenal. The Bahdari-Jarun partnership is ready for prime time they couldn't really be faulted for the goal and destroyed many dangerous Afghan forays.
What I didn't like: Saidawi getting beat at his near post, Abu Saleh offering nothing in defence and nothing going forward, the double pivot of Wadi and Yousef should have been dominating possession instead they were dominated.
What I didn't like (part 2): This needed to be a night game it would have ensured a better atmosphere and allowed for more people to attend the match from the start. Someone needs to tell the FA that Sunday is a weekday in Palestine. The TV coverage from PSC was some of the worst television I have seen in my years watching the sport. The camera was all over the place and I know that PSC doesn't have the biggest budget but it was bad by even their low standards.
Afghanistan Consensus: Probably would be in the second round if they landed another team in the draw (remember that Palestine was the low seed and only ourselves and Philippines managed to advance). It looked they were the ones who had more time to rest and practice for this match. Arzeou is a very clever player and Jalaludin Sharyhtar was one of the best players out there dominant in defence and playing a role in Arzeou's goal. It's a shame they were not able to qualify for the Challenge Cup Finals.
What's Next: Palestine face Thailand in Bangkok in 20 days and the return leg is slated for the 28th. Omar Jarun and possibly Roberto Bishara will have to return to their clubs. But it should be back to training for the rest of the bunch. Expect Bezaz to call up some new faces and reshuffle his deck.